Ballantini: Coop hits the hot seat - for good?

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Ballantini: Coop hits the hot seat - for good?

Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011
Posted: 8:36 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com White Sox InsiderFollow @CSNChi_Beatnik
READ: Cooper, Baines ink extensions
VIDEO: One-on-one with GM Williams, Part 1
VIDEO: One-on-one with GM Williams, Part 2

As Don Cooper ascended to the spot where former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen sat and held court for nearly eight seasons, it sure didnt seem like the shoes were all that big to fill.

I could manage. If I had the right people around me, I think I could do it, Cooper said. I dont think its necessarily Xs and Os. Its more managing people, creating an atmosphere, things like that. I do believe I could do it.

Cooper has been coaching in the White Sox organization since 1988 and for the major league team since 2002, predating Guillen. The former major league pitchergenerally considered the finest pitching coach in baseballhas yet to try his hand at managing, but has long spoken of his managerial aspirations and believes he has the mettle to succeed. The two of us have spoken over time and at length, dating to last year, about that possibilityand in Chicago if Guillen was ever to depart.

While Ken Williams has made no mention of Cooper as a managerial candidate and has indicated he has a definite external favorite candidate, the GM definitely values his mentoring. That was evidenced on Tuesday, when Cooper and Harold Baines were both re-signed to coaching extensions.

Of Cooper, Williams said, Well, the pitching has been as consistent over the last decade, and thats a testament to our scouting department, to our player development department, to Don Cooper, directly in his direction. Its something thats well deserved and Im happy, thrilled to know that hes going to be on board here for the next four years.

Coopers charges believe he has the mettle to apply his success as a pitching coach to an opportunity in the big chair.

Yeah, why not, closer Sergio Santos said. He sees game situations well and deals so well with the mental side of the game.

Fellow reliever Will Ohman predictably was more contemplative, citing Coopers malleability as a particular strength.

Most players will rise to the challenge for a guy who you played your best for, and the guy you usually play your best for is the one who puts you in a position to play your best, said Ohman, pointing out that pitching coaches are often overlooked when it comes to managing. He asked me in spring training: How to I get you to be the best you can be? Hes not the kind of guy who will tell you, This is how we do it here, period He has a different method for each guy, some are thinkers, some are doers. Thats the job of a very good coach.

Cooper made specific reference to his communication style before the game, citing it as one of his key strengths.

Ozzie and I have had unbelievably good communication on the pitchers, on a daily basis Id like to think that same communication is going to happen with anybody else, he said. Im just a believer in communication as the key to any relationship, whether youre a bossemployee, coachplayer, boyfriendgirlfriend, manwife communications the key, man. That goes for any coaching job.

With Ozzie gone and Cooper no longer obligated to keep his big chair aspirations more on the down low, hes not looking at his late-season audition as a lark, but a tryout.

Cooper believes that his ability to motivate pitchers physically, mentally and emotionally can translate to an entire team and builds a bold and positive rsum for his candidacy. Counting Matt Thornton, Esteban Loaiza and Gavin Floyd among Cooper's dozen high-profile success stories, GM Ken Williams is well aware of his pitching coach's strengths and owes much of his executive success to Coop's coaching. That knowledge may result in Cooper being granted fuller responsibility with the teama responsibility that began Tuesday night.

Whether the GM recognizes it or not, if his pitchers have anything to say about it, Cooper should be considered for the top job.

He deserves consideration, lefty John Danks said. Hes helped me through different parts of my career in so many different ways. Hes got a great feel for what we need, mentally, physically, motivationally. I cant believe managing hasnt happened for him yet.

He gave me the opportunity to succeed or fail here with the White Sox and equipped me for the success Ive had here, said Phil Humber, Coopers latest revitalization, arguably the Soxs top starter in 2011. Thats a real key to who he ishe finds out what you need from him, then he equips you with it. Theres nothing more Id ask for in a manager, actually.

Hey, were the replacements

While Williams still is not speculating as to who would replace Guillen, he has said that the yearlong drama regarding the ex-managers contract prepared him well for the day that Williams would have to replace his former teammate.

And theres nothing that says we cant speculate on the man who trots the lineup card out for the White Sox's first game of 2012 at the Texas Rangers on April 6.

In order of likelihood, heres a glimpse at the candidates outside of current interim manager Don Cooper.

Dave Martinez: Martinez has the toughness and pedigree to appeal to Williams. Likewise his mentorship under universally-admired mentor Joe Maddon and Tampa Bays success with maximizing roster potential. But reading the tea leaves of Williams pregame comments on Tuesday, where, unsolicited, he mentioned that his clear choice might not be hired by the World Series because his choice might be involved.

We have to wait and see who the players are in the World Series and if theres someone on a playoff team that I ultimately might want to talk to, it might have to drag a little bit.

For those who feel Williams is leaning toward Sandy Alomar Jr., the Cleveland Indians are not in the playoffs; unless the GM is initiating heavy subterfuge and misdirection, hes already told us that his top candidate is in playoff contention.

Terry Francona: Long a favorite of Williams, its unlikely he is released from the Red Sox. But if Boston falters and falls from the playoffs in the seasons final two games, a change could be in the air. When talking about having to wait until after the World Series, Williams could be referring to an infatuation with Francona as wellalthough it is much less realistic or likely.

Sandy Alomar Jr.: The Cleveland Indians coach and former three-time White Sox interviewed very well for the Toronto Blue Jays opening in 2011, finishing a close second to John Farrell.

Joe McEwing: Ozzie himself seemed to transition from a mocking use of Super in front of McEwings name in passing to genuine appreciation for the Charlotte Triple-A manager. Yet the ascendance of a minor-league manager would seem more in line with a team going young, as the White Sox are too deep All-In for 2012 to make such a move.

Omar Vizquel: Vizquel said on Tuesday that he still wants to play in Chicago, not coach or manage hereyet. Vizquels artistic, mellow bent might be just the recipe for Williams after the eight-year diet of brashness and controversy Guillen provided.

Tony LaRussa: Unless Jerry Reinsdorf just extended Cooper for four years in order to fire him with four years left on the deal, LaRussa wont come to Chicago if only because he is forever married to pitching coach Dave Duncan. Still, LaRussa remains a favorite of certain dead-horse beating writers, despite the fact that the ex-White Sox mentor is unsure he even will commit to his current St. Louis Cardinals for more than a year a time.

Buddy Bell: For whatever reason, the former manager and current White Sox farm director was immediately bandied as a possible replacement despite the fact that he told South Side Sox this May he absolutely would not return to managing.

Joey Cora: Cora would have been a fair enough candidate if not so closely associated with Guillen. As the team didnt even allow Cora to serve as the interim manager to finish 2011, theres close to zero chance Cora will interview with Williams. Besides, the team malaise under Ozzie this season must also fall on Coras shoulders, as the bench coach handles a lot of the clubs heavy lifting.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information. CSNChicago staff contributed to this report.

Chris Sale ties career-high 17 wins as White Sox power past Rays

Chris Sale ties career-high 17 wins as White Sox power past Rays

Chris Sale had no trouble earning his 17th win of the season, tying his career-high set in 2012.

The White Sox offense powered past the Tampa Bay Rays 13-6 on Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field, improving their record to 76-81 on the season.

Sale pitched seven innings and recorded seven strikeouts. He also allowed three earned runs on eight hits. It was Sale’s 16th career game with at least seven strikeouts and no walks, according to CSN’s stat guru Chris Kamka.

“I think the whole team and organization takes him for granted, to be sure. I think he’s a heck of a competitor,” Adam Eaton said of Sale prior to Tuesday’s game. “He’s one of the best in the game of baseball and I think we should look at him as such. And when I say take for granted, it’s not a slander on anybody. You just get used to him going seven, eight innings, throwing 115 pitches and giving his best effort day in and day out. He’s definitely not the usual, for sure.”

The White Sox extended their winning streak to four games. The last time they won four consecutive games was July 23-26 against the Cleveland Indians and Cubs. The White Sox had winning streaks of at least four games three times in their first 33 games of the season.

Eaton went 2-for-5 with two runs, an RBI and a double in his return to the lineup after missing three games with an injury.

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Tim Anderson got things started with an RBI single in the first and RBI double in the second. Anderson also added a solo homer in the eighth inning.

Melky Cabrera hit his 14th homer of the season in the first, bumping his RBI total to 82 on the year, five shy from his career-high.

In the third, Leury Garcia smacked his first homer of the year, a three-run shot to left-center field to extend the White Sox lead to 8-2. Two more runs were scored in the fifth on a fielder’s choice and an error. Jason Coats, pinch-hitting for Justin Morneau, and Todd Frazier each had an RBI single in the eighth.

Sale issued a two-run double to former White Sox infielder Alexei Ramirez in the second and a homer to Curt Casali in the fourth.

With five games left, Ventura hasn’t decided if Sale will make one final start before the 2016 campaign ends.

However, Ventura believes that tying his 17 wins in a season is well-deserving.

“You're looking at a guy that's one of the elite pitchers in the game,” Ventura said. “You always want him to match or best his past performances. I think part of that is motivation at this point to be able to go out there and do it.

“His numbers, you look at them and they stack up with anybody. But you want him to continue to win games and you want him to surpass previous accomplishments. Every guy's trying to do that.”

If roster stays the same, Adam Eaton believes White Sox can compete in 2017

If roster stays the same, Adam Eaton believes White Sox can compete in 2017

This season hasn’t exactly turned out the way the White Sox had hoped.

The White Sox took Major League Baseball by storm after beginning the season at 23-10, which led the American League Central by six games at the time.

But since then, the White Sox have been climbing an uphill battle. They lost 20 of their next 26 games and found themselves fighting to stay above .500.

The White Sox brought in reinforcements in an effort to get their season back on track, adding designated hitter Justin Morneau (via free agency), veteran pitcher James Shields (via trade from San Diego Padres) and 23-year-old shortstop Tim Anderson (Triple-A Charlotte). 

But the White Sox still couldn’t make things click.

“I think you learn how guys struggle and how they try and get out of it,” said manager Robin Ventura. “You see guys that continue to grind through it and try to find it. Some guys find it quicker than other guys. I think the biggest thing is their ability to grind through it.”

The White Sox were officially eliminated from the postseason last Friday and will finish with their fourth straight losing season.

What happens over the offseason remains a mystery. It’s uncertain how their opening roster will look like next season.

If little changes are made, Adam Eaton believes the White Sox can still be contenders in 2017.

“There is a lot of talent here,” Eaton said. “There are a lot of good baseball players in here. It’s not the year we thought. And I think with that exact quote, ‘It’s not the year that we thought,’ if we brought the guys back I think we might have the year we thought we would have.

“The camaraderie is great in here. It’s tough to say whether people will be leaving or whether additions will be added. I’m sure moves will be made. In the game of baseball, there’s never an offseason that’s quiet, I feel like. Whatever Rick (Hahn) and the organization sees would be more functional for this team to be better and more consistent on a day-to-day basis, then that’s what they see in the team.

“If I’m in those plans, great. If not, then it kind of stinks. But if they want me in this uniform next year, I’ll be proud to wear it and I’ll put everything I have on the field again like I did this year.”

Time will tell which direction the White Sox decide to go in. Will they continue to add immediate impact players and build around the same group? Make a few tweaks? Or perhaps even tear it all down and start from scratch?

One thing is for sure, it will be a busy offseason for the White Sox one way or another.

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If the White Sox decide to make any drastic changes like trade Chris Sale — who was a hot topic of discussion around the trade deadline — Eaton knows exactly what he'd do if they faced one another.

“Take the day off,” Eaton said. “No, I don’t want to give away too much because I hope I’m never on that side. Just see ball, hit ball. Be simple. Have a simple approach off him because he can make you look foolish at times. Just have a good competitive at-bat.

“But like I said, easier said than done. He’s made a lot of people look foolish. I hope I’ll never have to do that, to be honest with you. I’d love to be on his team for the rest of my life.”